By Jim Brennan
Welcome to another “Will They Ever Be Collectible” posting on Hooniverse. I started this little feature asking if the Jeep Commander would ever become collectible, then the Volvo first generation S40/V40, and the quartet of GM W-Body LS4 equipped mid-sized cars. This week, let’s take a look at the early Japanese Luxury Cars, and ask if any of these will ever become popular with collectors twenty years from now.
It was Honda who threw the first salvo in the coming Luxury Car Wars waged against the Germans for dominance within the North America Market, with the introduction of the Acura brand in 1986, and was introduced under the slogan, “Acura. Precision Crafted Performance.” The two initial models introduced was the Executive Class Legend, and the compact Integra, itself just an update to the JDM Quint. In 1987, Acura’s first full year of sales, they sold 109,000 cars with the flagship Legend sedan accounting for 55,000 sales and the rest were of the smaller Integra. By 1990, Acura was selling 138,000 vehicles, including 54,000 Legends, compared to Mercedes-Benz’s 78,000 cars and 64,000 each for BMW and Lexus.
There is but one car within the Acura Lineup that has the potential to become collectible, and that would be the NSX. Introduced in 1991, five years after the debut of the Legend and Integra, this midship V6 powered, rear-wheel-drive sports car was billed as the first Japanese car capable of competing with Ferrari and Porsche. This vehicle served as a “image car” for the Acura brand, heralding the introduction of Honda’s VTEC technology.
Despite a strong start in market acceptance for the Acura brand, sales suffered in the mid-to-late 1990s. There were some attempts at rounding out the lineup with mildly refaced JDM cars such as the Acura Vigor in 1992, which was a response to the Lexus ES and Infiniti J30. During this time Acura switched to an alphanumeric nomenclature formula, dropping the Legend, Vigor and Integra titles. The 1996 the RL replaced the popular Legend, and the Vigor became the TL. The alphanumeric designations were more anonymous than the former Legend, Vigor and Integra titles, which had grown into their own cult followings.
Lexus originated from a clandestine flagship sedan project, which began in 1983 and culminated in the launch of the original Lexus LS in 1989. Subsequently, the division added sedan, coupé, convertible, and SUV models. The F1 project followed the success of the Toyota Supra sports car and the premium Toyota Cressida models, and was aimed at expanding Toyota’s product line, giving it a foothold in the premium segment and offering both longtime and new customers an upmarket product.
By the end of 1989, 16,392 LS400 and ES250 sedans had been sold in the four months following the U.S. launch. Sales were a little slower than expected, but the final tally matched the division’s target of 16,000 units for that year. Following initial models, plans called for the addition of a sports coupe along with a redesigned ES sedan. The LS400 (and subsequent LS Sedans) could have the potential of becoming collectible, but it is the SC300 and the SC400 that will be the collectible Lexus, and was introduced during the 1991 model year.
Other models within the Lexus Lineup throughout the years will have a tougher time within the collector market. Warmed over Camrys (ES250, ES300, ES350), Crossover SUVs (Rx300), as well as other models may appeal as curiosities, and the rebadged Toyota Land Cruisers (LX 450) may have a following in a couple of decades.
The Infiniti brand was introduced in the United States in 1989 around the same time as the Lexus Brand. The marketing strategy was to target the premium vehicle segments in the United States that would not have otherwise fit in with Nissan’s more mainstream image. The Infiniti marque was launched with two models, the Q45, and the M30. The Q45 was based on the all new second generation JDM Nissan President. The Q45 included a 278 hp V8 engine, four wheel steering, and active suspension system offered on the first generation Q45t. The car’s features would have made it competitive in the full-sized “luxury” segment against the Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series, and Jaguar XJ.
The 2-door M30, a badge engineered Nissan Leopard, was introduced for the 1990 model year. It remained in production for three years as an alternative to the Lexus SC. The powertrain was the VG30E 162 hp V6 engine and an automatic transmission. The M30 coupe was underpowered for its weight of over 3,000lb. The M30 convertible weighed even more, due to the required body and chassis reinforcements. The appearance of the M30 had almost no resemblance to the larger Q45, and the interior was almost completely different.
By the mid-1990s, Infiniti was lagging behind Lexus and Acura in sales. The Q45 had retreated considerably from its focused, taut rendition of a sporty executive sedan, having become a barely recognizable, ponderously handling sedan that earned the nickname “The Japanese Lincoln”. A revival would not come to Infiniti until the 2003 model year with the introduction of the Nissan Skyline-based G35 Sedan.
So this is the question to ponder… Will the early Japanese Luxury Cars ever become the coveted collectible that Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or even Jaguar have become during the later 80s and early 90s. Let me know what you think.